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OUR FUTURE NAYY.
BY S. B. LUCE, REAR-ADMIRAL, UNITED STATES NAVY.
In his "Essay on History," Lord Macaulay observes that "no
past event has any intrinsic importance ; the knowledge of it is
valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect
to the future." Agreeably to that precept, a retrospective survey,
so appropriate in this centennial year, will enable us to form just
calculations as to what may be reasonably anticipated in respect
to the development of our new navy. A necessary condition of
the forecast is that no violent political eruptions or international
complications shall disturb the course hitherto followed by legis-
lation on naval affairs.
Before proceeding further let us inquire what constitutes a
navy. A navy is, in one sense, a sea army. Or, to speak more
correctly, its principal constituent, a fleet, is a sea army, to which
all the other component parts are but subsidiary. The French
habitually speak of les armies de terre et de mer. The analogy
between a land army and a sea army is often so close that at some
points it merges into identity ; and in certain problems of war the
two may be reasoned upon as identical. Thus the main body of
the land army, composed of infantry, may be compared to a fleet
of battle-ships. The infantry of the line acts in masses, and on
the field of battle constitutes the principal fighting force. The
same is true of a fleet. Well disciplined, a mass of infantry in
column or in square is almost impenetrable. Witness the
terrible, but fruitless, charges of the French cuirassiers on the
solid masses of the English infantry at Waterloo. One of the
great lessons of war is that cavalry charges, except against cavalry,
are indecisive unless supported by infantry. Says Hamley in his
"Operations of War": " All the formidable inroads of Napoleon's
horsemen on the British line availed nothing for the want of in-
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 55
fantry support." The same principle, precisely, applies to the
operations of the sea army. The inroads of cruisers, which are
analogous to cavalry, will avail but little unless supported by
battle-ships. This position is incontestable. Napoleon regarded
the infantry as the arm of battles and the sinews of the army.
Infantry, in short, is the first instrument of victory. It finds a
powerful support, however, in the cavalry and the artillery.
These tenets are admitted by all military writers, and are uni-
versally accepted. Let it now be asked how an army could be
organized without infantry of the line. The soldier would proba-
bly answer that the question is an absurd one and unworthy of a
serious reply. And yet that is just what we are trying to do
with our sea army — otherwise known as the navy of the United
States. That is to say, we are pretending to build up a navy
without the constituents of a line of battle. We are building
cruisers of various sizes, which correspond to the cavalry and light
artillery of the land army ; and we have monitors for coast and
harbor defence, which supplement our fortifications; but we have
no battle-ships to correspond to the infantry of the line, which
constitutes the main strength of the line of battle.
James, one of the best historians of the English navy, remarks
that the strength of a navy is the line of tattle, rather than its
detached or frigate force. " The latter may cruise about," he
says, " and interrupt trade, or levy contributions on some com-
paratively insignificant colonial territory ; but it is the former
that arrays itself before formidable batteries and strikes dread
into the heart of the parent state." Vice- Admiral Penhoat, a dis-
tinguished officer of the French navy, and an author of note,
reaches the same conclusion. " The most powerful agent that
can be employed for the defence of the coast," he observes, " is
the fleet of line-of-battle ships. That is the active force of all
others that is capable of defending any point on the coast that
may be threatened by an enemy." After discussing the necessary
qualifications of a battle-ship, he says :
"It will be seen, from what has preceded, that the fleet of the line is the founda-
tion of a navy ; and that no operations at sea of importance, such as bombardments,
the transportation of troops, etc., etc., can be undertaken with security, unless the
enemy's fleet of the line has first been rendered powerless."
" It is the line of battle, then, which should take precedence in its development
over those accessory forces which, when joined to it, constitute together a navy.
The secondary forces— the cruisers, transports, armored coast-guards, etc., etc.—
56 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
should, each according to its Importance, have a certain relative proportion to the
whole ; but they should not impede the development of the principal power."
The policy thus clearly lined out has been advocated by the
executive and combated by the legislative branch of the United
States Government since the beginning of our existence as a
nation, and up to a comparatively recent period ; and describes
accurately the course followed in England, where everything re-
lating to the navy is done seriously and with a definite purpose.
Chief-Engineer J. W. King, United States Navy, in his admirable
report on " European Ships of War/' under the head of " The
British Navy," writes:
" It is to the production of the most powerful sea-going fighting ships that the
resources of the navy are first directed: ships sufficiently armed to resist the pro-
jectiles of any ordinary kind; sufficiently armed to silence forts, or to meet the
enemy tinder any conditions proffered; sufficiently fast to choose the time and place
to fight; and sufficiently buoyant to carry coal and stores into any ocean."
This statement finds emphatic confirmation in the recent Admir-
alty programme announced by Lord George Hamilton, the First
Lord of the Admiralty. In brief, that programme calls for the
building, between April, 1889, and April, 1894, of seventy vessels
of war, ten of which are to be battle-ships, and sixty, cruisers of
different types. The report says :
" A battle-ship, when completed, is not entirely efficient unless she has certain
small vessels attached to her as scouts ; and we consider that, out of the seventy
vessels, twenty are the satellites of the battle-ships. The remaining cruisers will
be effective whether used in squadrons or individually. . . . Later on, when an
increase is made to our battle-ships, each battle-ship will be accompanied by two
smaller vessels ; and thus there will be no drain upon our force of independent
The strength of the British line is to be brought up, in the near
future, to something over one hundred battle-ships, with cruisers,
great and small, in proportion.
Let us now suppose the battle-ship to be subtracted from the
floating force of Great Britain. How long could she hold Gibral-
tar and Malta, control the Suez Canal, and maintain her Indian
Empire by the eastern route ? How long could she hold the line
from London to Halifax, Esquimault, and India by the western ?
How long could she prevent Germany from establishing a military
port on the Scheldt ? How long could she hold the great strategic
points at Jamaica, Barbadoes, and St. Lucie, which dominate the
West Indies, the Spanish Main, and the Isthmian Canal, which
will eventually open to her a short cut to the Pacific ? Without bat-
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 57
tie-ships the whole British Empire would crumble to pieces, "and,
like the baseless fabric of a vision, . . . leave not a rack behind."
In the absence of anything and everything that might re-
semble a naval policy, we have reversed the usual order of naval
development. The battle-ship being the very foundation of a
navy, and the United States having no battle-ship, it is plain that
in a military sense — the only sense in which a navy can be dis-
cussed — she has no navy. Not only that, but she has no founda-
tion whereon to build one. She has the necessaries only — the
satellites, the cruisers, and the coast-guard ships. The great
central body about which the satellites revolve — the solid
masses of the line, which give the cruisers moral and material
support — are altogether wanting. In military parlance, we have a
a few light infantry (cruisers) for scouts ; and cavalry (cruisers)
for reconnoitring ; but, in case of repulse, there is no main body of
the line to fall back upon. One of the functions of light infantry
is to protect the flanks of the army. Our cruisers are to protect
the flanks of — what ? Nothing ! There is no main body, no line of
battle, no battle-ship, no navy — nothing, in short, but accessories.
Let us test the truth of this. International complications
arise of such a character that the government finds it necessary
to send a number of our best ships to a distant point, Samoa for
example. On reaching the place designated, the American admi-
ral, in the "Baltimore," as flag-ship, and accompanied by the
"Newark," " Philadelphia," and " San Francisco," all splendid
4,000-ton ships, of the most approved types, finds himself
confronted by four battle-ships to dispute his way. The vital
parts of the foreign ships and the crews are well protected
by heavy masses of steel; while the sides of the "Baltimore",
and her consorts, though of steel, are but little thicker
than a single number of The North American Review, or, to
be exact, five-eighths of an inch thick — sides of no greater
powers of resistance than the frigate " Constitution," launched
in 1797, possessed. Do the people of this country expect their
admiral to risk a battle under such circumstances ? Hardly,
for those ships were designed expressly to run away from battle-
ships, as will presently be shown. That is the fundamental idea
which is guiding the development of the new navy: to run away.
It may be observed here that the word^eetf is sometimes used
to express the entire floating force of the navy. This use of the
58 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
word is common both in England and in France. In a more lim-
ited and technical sense, a fleet is an assembly of twelve or more
battle-ships. Used in this latter sense, Great Britain will soon
be able to put afloat seven or eight fleets, each fleet filled up to its
tactical complement of twelve battle-ships; each battle-ship ac-
companied by two satellites; with cruisers, torpedo depdt-ships, and
hospital-ships; while cruisers, acting independently, will be left to
protect her own commerce and annihilate that of an enemy. If
the military necessities of England compel her to maintain, say,
six fleets and their accessories, and the Great Powers of Europe
keep afloat proportional numbers, is it not to the interest of the
people of this country to have a floating force of something more
than mere accessories? Is it not to the interest of our people to
have a navy in reality, instead of the semblance of one? Is it not
to our interest to have at least one fleet of twelve battle-ships?
That is the question the Executive has been presenting to Con-
gress for the past one hundred years.
With all her enormous iron ship-building facilities, England
allows from three and a half to four years to build a battle-ship.
In this country it would probably take a little longer. The keel
of the "Chicago," which is not a battle-ship, was laid in 1883, and
she is not yet ready for sea; and this at a time when the govern-
ment is much pressed for ships. Should either of the battle-ships
"Maine "or "Texas" ever be launched, her time on the stocks
will probably cover a period of from seven to eight years. Mak-
ing the most liberal allowance for increase of skilled labor in iron
ship-building, it would be twenty years at least before the United
States could get a fleet of battle-ships to sea, — and in these days
wars are reckoned by months. If the American people contem-
plate building up a navy, it is not a day too soon to formulate
some definite plan of development beyond mere accessories.
If there is any one fact made clear by the history of the past,
it is the true function of our navy. The r61e of a navy is essen-
tially offensive, as contrasted with sea-coast fortifications, which
are defensive. This broad distinction must be borne in mind, if
the persistent, but unavailing, efforts of our highest naval authori-
ties, in time past, to organize a navy, are to be understood.
" The proper duty of our navy," it was declared long since, " is not coast or river
defence; it has a more glorious sphere— that of the offensive. Confident that this is
the true policy as regards the employment of the navy proper, we doubt not that it
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 59
will, In the future, be acted on, as It has been in the past; and that the results, as
regards both honor and advantage, will be expanded commensurately with its en-
largement. ... In order, however, that the navy may always assume and main-
tain that active and energetic deportment, in offensive operations, which is at the
same time so consistent with its functions and so consonant with its spirit, we have
shown that it must not be occupied with mere coast defences."
The great principles on which our entire system of sea-coast
defence has been erected have been laid down with mature delib-
eration by our highest military and naval authorities. " The
means of defence/' say they, "for the seaboard of the United States,
constituting a system, may be classed as follows: First, a navy;
second, fortifications; third, interior communications by land and
water; and fourth, a regular army and well-organized militia." *
The term Navy is defined as ' ' that portion only of our mili-
tary marine which is capable of moving in safety upon the ocean,
and transporting itself speedily to distant points." This can be
done only by battle-ships equal, if not superior, in fighting power
to the average battle-ship of a possible enemy. "Floating bat-
teries, etc., etc.," were regarded as pertaining to land defences,
and were deemed " powerful auxiliaries." " The Navy," it was
said, " being the only species of offensive force compatible with
our institutions, it will be prepared to act the great part which
its early achievements have promised, and to which its high
destiny will lead."
Benjamin Stoddert, our first Secretary of the"Navy, thoroughly
understood the office of a navy. In a communication to the
House of Representatives under date of December 29, 1798, after
advancing the most cogent reasons, he recommended the building
of twelve battle-ships and as many frigates. " Had we possessed
this force a few years ago," he adds, " we should not have lost,
by depredations on our trade, four times the sum necessary to
have created and maintained it during the whole time the war
has existed in Europe." In a subsequent report, January 12,
1801, the Secretary enunciates a sound principle. He says, in
effect : Let our enterprising privateersmen prey on the enemy's
commerce. The government should " attend principally to a pro-
vision for battle-ships and frigates." The two reports are note-
* It may not be out of place here to explain that in classing the navy, which is
the arm of offence, among the elements of defence, the words are to be taken in their
military sense. Thus we have many instances in history of "defensive-offensive'
campaigns, where the defence takes the initiative. The true war of defence,
military writers affirm, seeks every occasion to meet the enemy. The French defend
themselves by attacking.
60 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
worthy as clearly indicating the true lines of naval development,
by the building, first of all, of battle-ships, and showing that the
preying upon an enemy's commerce was altogether secondary and
not the first objective of a navy.
It cannot be said that Congress responded with alacrity to
these earnest appeals. We were paying tribute at the time to the
Barbary powers. French cruisers were depredating our com-
merce and English vessels of war were impressing seamen out of
our merchant vessels; but the navy which could, and eventually
did, put a stop to these indignities, found little favor with our
national legislature. The Naval Committee, reporting to the
House, December 17, 1811, said :
"The important engine of national strength and national security, which is
formed by a naval force, has hitherto, in the opinion of the committee, been, treated
viith a neglect highly impolitic, or supported by a spirit so languid as, while it has
preserved the existence of the establishment, has had the effect of loading it with
the imputations of wasteful expense and comparative inefficiency."
We were on the verge of war with England when this "languid
spirit " in regard to naval affairs prevailed in the House of Repre-
sentatives. In 1799 Congress had authorized the building of six
battle-ships ; but, the amount appropriated being insufficient, no
steps had been taken towards setting them up, beyond the pur-
chase of some ship timber, so that a few frigates and sloops-of-war
were all we had ot a navy.
On the 19th of June, 1812, war was proclaimed against Eng-
land. Elated by the success which attended our little navy in its
first encounter with the English at sea, Congress, now that war was
actually begun, authorized the President, " as soon as the materials
could ie procured," to cause to be built, equipped, and employed
four battle-ships and six frigates. " This was the first step," says
Cooper, the historian of the navy, " that was ever actually put in
execution towards establishing a marine that might prove of ma-
terial moment in influencing the results of a war." But — and
this is one of the impressive lessons of history — although hostili-
ties lasted two and a half years, the first battle-ship to be
launched, the " Independence," was too late to take part in
the war. The successes attending the War of 1812, and the
placing of the Navy Department upon a better footing, by
giving the Secretary of the Navy a staff of experienced offi-
cers — the navy commissioners — 'to assist him in his duties, excited
a passing interest in naval affairs. This was not a little
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 61
enhanced by the brief war of 1815 with the Barbary powers.
Under the impulse of this feeling, Congress authorized the aug-
mentation of the navy to twelve battle-ships. Owing to the
limited amount of the annual appropriations, and the small num-
ber of seamen allowed by law, but four ships were kept in
active service. Three were during many years laid up "in or-
dinary," and five held in reserve on the stocks in such an ad-
vanced stage of completion that, on the first sign of approaching
hostilities, they could have been launched and equipped for sea in
a comparatively short space of time. Built of well-seasoned
live-oak, they could almost be said to defy the ravages
of time. They were broken up, or diverted to other pur-
poses than originally intended, only when the type of battle-ship
they represented had become obsolete. They were, with but two
exceptions, the very best specimens of naval architecture of the
period and distinctively American in weight of batteries, great
strength, capacity, sea-going qualities — everything, in short, that
constituted a high order of excellence in a battle-ship of their day.
A flag-ship, it may be remarked, is a fair exponent of the
strength of a navy. In the noon-tide of our naval power, the
flag (or broad pennant) of the commander-in-chief was flown by a
battle-ship. To-day it is displayed either from a second-rate,
that has already reached the limits of usefulness, or from a
third-rate but little better off. These are soon to be replaced by
a class of flag-ships whose character shall be portrayed later on.
In 1823 President Monroe announced the doctrine which has
since taken his name. It embraced two interdependent parts —
one political, one military. The former only is now remembered.
The formal declaration that the American continents " are not to
be considered as subject to colonization by any European power"
carried with it an obligation to maintain the means by which that
policy could be enforced. Hence the President's admirable letter
of January 30, 1824, to the United States House of Eepresenta-
tives against an undue reduction of the navy. The message was
accompanied by a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, in which
the naval policy of the government was plainly stated.
" When the vessels now authorized by law to be built," he writes, " are com-
pleted, there will be twelve battle-ships. . . . The vessels having been built, we
must train officers to command and manage them. ... A great portion of the
science of the naval commanders can be acquired only on the ocean and by years of
labor and discipline."
62 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Accompanying these letters was the draft of a bill for a naval
peace establishment; but it found little favor in Congress, and
nothing was done.
In 1836 we had reached the meridian of our naval power. On
the 18th of February of that year the Senate passed a series of
resolutions, one of which ran as follows :
That the President be requested to cause the Senate to be informed of " the
probable amount that would be necessary to place the naval defences of the United
States upon the footing of strength and respectability which is due to the security
and to the welfare of the Union."
The Executive replied that " the force to be prepared ready for
use when circumstances may require it should consist of fifteen
battle-ships, twenty-five frigates, twenty-five sloop^-of-war,
twenty-five steamers, and twenty-five small vessels, and Uiai the
frames, ordnance, etc., etc., should be prepared for ten battle-
ships and ten frigates." It was proposed, further, that six bat-
tle-ships, eleven frigates, fifteen sloops-of-war, and a number of
smaller vessels should be kept in active service during peace, "for
the protection of our commercial interests, and to prepare officers
and others for the efficient management of the force proposed for
a state of war." The year 1850 was fixed upon as the most
remote period at which the proposed force ought to be ready.
The board was of the opinion, however, that it might be prepared
much sooner, "should Congress deem it advisable to make larger
appropriations than those suggested." But Congress did not
"deem it advisable"; indeed, did not deem it advisable to make
any increase whatever. Six years after making their report, the
able staff of the Secretary of the Navy — the navy commission-
ers — were legislated out of existence, and the year 1850 passed,
and 1860 and 1870 and 1880, and now we find ourselves approach-
ing the year 1890, and instead of a " gradual increase," there has
been a gradual degeneration of the navy, and we have not to-day
a single battle-ship to succeed those launched in 1818-20.
The decline of our naval power cannot be attributed to a radi-
cally defective form of naval administration alone, though that is
responsible for much of the evil. There is another cause.
According to natural laws, the military and mercantile marine
of a state rise and fall together. The exception to this law is
when a purely military policy compels the maintenance of a war
marine; and we are not a people to exercise military previsions.
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 63
In the early days of the world's history war- vessels were needed
to keep down piracy and enable traders to pursue their way in
peace. An extensive commerce begot distant colonies, and both
required the constant protection of a war marine. Then a navy
came to be an exponent of a nation's wealth and power. The
commerce and navy of Tyre grew together, and together fell.
Carthage in her days of prosperity monopolized the trade of the
Mediterranean, and her navy for a time defied the whole power of
Rome. During the middle ages, the Italian Republics, Venice and
Genoa, had large interests in commerce and powerful navies.
With the loss of the one the other passed away. Spain,
Portugal, and Holland, each in its turn, went through the same
experience. England presents the greatest example in history
of enormous wealth acquired through foreign trade. Colonial
possessions followed, and a navy which defies the united forces of
any two maritime countries in the world was the natural result.
For a time the United States followed England in her ex-
tension of ocean commerce. The American flag became a familiar
sight on every sea, and the tonnage engaged in our foreign trade
ran up to be second only to that of England. But our foreign
shipping had already begun to decline before the breaking-out of
the rebellion in 1861. Our people were, and are, content
to have their carrying trade borne in foreign bottoms, and
to see what was once a source of national pride and
strength and power, transferred to foreign flags to help make
their countries rich and strong. Having sacrificed a large
measure of our shipping interests, and with no outlying possessions
to protect, what more natural than that there should be a decline
of our naval power ? Blind or indifferent to the military aspect
of the question, the resultant of the several causes has forced the
navy to abandon its principal and time-honored role as the
offensive arm of the government, thrown it back upon the lines of
defence, and gradually withdrawn it from the sea. The tendency
of the entire navy now is to get on shore — and stay there.
The " new navy " took its rise in 1881. The very term is
suggestive. It is peculiar to this country, and indicates our
methods of procedure in all matters connected with naval affairs.
In the maritime countries of Europe naval architecture kept pace
with the changes that have been going on for years past in naval and
military science. Marine architects and their artisans moved with
64 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
the times ; and the naval officers and seamen had no difficulty
in adapting themselves to the continuous, but gradual, changes.
These changes were brought about by such slow degrees that
there was no precise date to mark the decease of an obsolete
type of ship and the birth of a new. It was not so in the United
States. On the close of the War of the Rebellion we sat down to
rest. What mattered it though we had given the " Monitor "
to the nautical world, and a fresh impetus to marine architecture ?
We ourselves sat down to rest. The building of vessels of war,
in which we had once led the navies of the old world, became
to us a lost art ! and a quarter of a century after the "Monitor "
had effected a revolution in the art of naval warfare, we find our-
selves compelled to go abroad for the models of our war-ships ;
meanwhile having our naval constructors educated in foreign
schools of naval architecture. The building of the battle-ship
" Texas " from English designs marks a distinct era in the history
of the United States Navy.
For twenty years from the War of the Rebellion the Execu-
tive had been urging the augmentation of the navy with monot-
onous iteration ; but the people, or their representatives in
Congress assembled, would not have it. What wonder we should
drop from the list of sea powers ? The first Advisory Board was
instructed to "recommend such vessels as Congress would be
ikely to approve " — not what, in the judgment of the Executive,
the country ought to have, but what it could get. This was the
lesson of generations of experience in naval administration. The
board reported, therefore, that, as the limit of money Congress
would be willing to appropriate for the navy was, without doubt,
a very restricted one, the construction of iron-clads (battle- ships)
was not recommended, though " such vessels are absolutely needed
for the defences of the country in time of war ; and if Congress
be willing " But, as in 1836, Congress was not willing.
Hence the plan for the new navy was not for a navy at all, but for
a sort of pis aller.
The new steel cruiser upon which we pride ourselves — and
justly so — is designed, as already stated, with a special view to run
away from battle-ships. She must be able to escape from iron-
clads, and outrun, so as to capture, merchantmen. "If slower
than iron-clads, she could not keep the sea; and if slower than
merchantmen she might as well remain in port." (Report of the
OUR FUTURE NAVY. 65
Secretary of the Navy, December 1, 1888.) This is all very well,
but fifty years ago we could have sent to sea a squadron of ten
battle-ships that would have compared favorably with those of
any nation on the globe, and to-day we have none.
It is true we have the keels of two battle-ships on the stocks,
and they may be finished and even sent to sea before the types
they represent become obsolete. Even that addition to the navy
would avail but little unless they are the forerunners of others.
In 1836 the official programme called for fifteen battle-ships.
To-day we need twenty at least. When we shall have put one-
half that number afloat we may begin to talk about " rehabilita-
ting" our navy without provoking a smile of derision.
But the people, or their representatives in Congress, are not
willing to rehabilitate in that sense. Hence the United States
Navy of the future is to be made up of coast-defence vessels,
which, according to our custom, will be laid up " in ordinary,"
and thin-sided steel cruisers for the high seas. Consequently the
American flag is to be displayed upon the ocean only by vessels
designed to prey upon private property, and this notwithstanding
our own proposition to amend the rules of international law by
exempting private property at sea from capture.
During the Franco-German war in 1871 it was the French
battle-ship that dominated the North Sea. The preying upon
the private property of the citizens of either belligerent played a
wholly insignificant part in the war. And yet that part, insignifi-
cant as it is in a maritime war, is the principal objective of the
United States Navy of the future. Thus do we virtually abdicate
our position as a sea power.
Kinglake, in his " Invasion of the Crimea," draws, with par-
donable pride, a fine picture of the moral effect of the presence of an
EnglisL man-of-war. It was just before the battle of Alma, when,
"as though in arrogant, yet quiet assertion of an ascendant be-
yond dispute, one solitary English ship, watching off the Sebas-
topol harbor, stood sentry over the enemy's fleet. Men had heard of
the dominion of the seas; now they saw it." That "solitary ship"
represented the vast, living power of a people ever ready to wield it.
A solitary American steel cruiser, with its delusive prefix of
"protected," represents the latent possibilities of a great country
placidly awaiting some national disaster to generate its mighty
forces. S. B. Luce.
vol. cxlix. — so. 392. 5